It goes without saying that having a baby changes your life. And it’s hard. From the nausea that sets in in early pregnancy, to the aches and pains and insomnia in the last trimester, the toll on your body is great.
Add in waking up every few hours to feed your newborn, healing from birth, learning to breastfeed, and a number of postpartum challenges, and you may wonder why we choose to go through any of it.
Until you hold you baby close and sniff their soft, sweet head. Or catch those fleeting dream smiles. Or get that first taste of back-and-forth interaction with your baby.
The hard stuff is the price we pay for experiencing the overwhelming love and joy of being a parent.
In recent years, society has acknowledged the challenges of motherhood. We see photos of celebrities in those ugly-wonderful mesh panties they give you postpartum. We support breastfeeding in public and also understand that breastfeeding isn’t always easy, or preferred, or for everyone. We accept that it’s okay to feel “touched-out.” We are learning to embrace our postpartum bodies. We talk more openly about postpartum depression and anxiety.
This is all good, and necessary. We acknowledge that parenthood, and especially motherhood, involves some sacrifice, physical discomfort, and lack of sleep. This camaraderie gives us permission to release the unrealistic ideal that parenthood should be easy, or pretty, or that we’re the only ones who find it hard.
It’s hard but we do it because that’s what the baby needs. The baby needs to grow, stretching out the uterus, and compressing our other organs up into the ribcage. The baby needs us to respond to his cries for hunger several times at night so he can eat and thrive. The baby needs to be born so we labor, and push our bodies to their limits, or undergo major surgery to bring the baby into the terrestrial world.
There are things we want to give our kids, like toys, and activities, and quality childcare, and education— so we purchase less of what we might want to give the baby what he or she needs.
All of this giving is normal, and instinctual, and a part of being a parent. But there is a piece missing.
There are other things the baby needs—and they are actually the things we need.
As mothers, we overwhelmingly put the needs of our family before our own. And while it comes from a place of love, and from us accepting the “hard stuff,” it isn’t necessarily necessary. Ignoring our own needs can backfire on us.
Denying what you need isn’t necessarily what your baby needs.
Your baby also needs:
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Put on your own oxygen mask first.” This is derived from airline safety instructions; parents flying with kids are instructed in an emergency to put on their own oxygen masks before they put on their kids’ masks. Otherwise they might pass out before they can put on anyone’s mask, and then nobody wins.
It’s easy to understand the importance of taking care of yourself first, but it can be hard to do. Or easy to point to something simple like getting your hair done occasionally and say that that’s enough.
Daily self care is much more difficult. Asking for help can feel impossible to do. Budgeting to see a chiropractor in pregnancy, or a pelvic floor therapist after birth, or hiring a postpartum doula, or a babysitter so you can get some alone time, is completely off the radar for many.
But if there is a shift in thought, in both you and your partner, that what you need as a person, is what your baby also needs in a mother— then maybe self care will turn into a family need.
Your self care will be just as necessary as diapers, or a carseat, or daycare, or anything else the baby may need. And so it will be planned for and budgeted for.
Self care isn’t just okay, it’s necessary. Your care is necessary.
Pregnancy and parenthood will always be hard, and exhausting, and challenging at times. But by prioritizing your own needs, you are preventing it from being even harder.
I am a certified labor (birth) doula and postpartum doula serving clients in Boise, Meridian, Eagle, Nampa, and the Greater Treasure Valley.
Self-care can come in the form of a doula, whether that be
during your birth or after your baby is born.
Whether you are looking at a return to work after maternity leave, or just need a sitter for an occasional date night, leaving your baby in someone else’s care for the first time can seem like a daunting task.
Will they be safe? Will they get the same level of attention as they get from you? What if they don’t take a bottle? Will they cry? Will you cry?
Here are five things to consider when finding a caregiver for your baby:
1. Determine the type of care you need and want. You will have different expectations of an occasional babysitter than that of a full time caregiver. It may not matter that an occasional sitter has a little trouble putting your child to sleep at his usual time, because his routine isn’t greatly affected by one late nap. However, you may want a regular caregiver to follow the same routine as you do at home.
Depending on your budget, your child’s needs, and your personal preferences, you may be looking at the following types of care:
2. Get referrals and check references. When looking for care, ask your friends, family members, and neighbors for referrals. No matter what kind of care you are looking for, if you can get a referral from a family who has had personal experience with a caregiver, you may have more peace of mind about leaving your child with them.
If you can’t get personal referrals, you can get referrals from local parenting groups, or you can view ratings on child care sites like care.com. You can use a child care agency; they screen their caregivers in advance, conduct background checks, and may require them to have a minimal level of experience or training.
When you find potential caregivers, ask for references from families with whom they have worked in the past. If they can’t or won’t offer references, this can be a sign that they are inexperienced or have had negative experiences you may want to avoid.
3. You make the decisions. You have the right to choose a caregiver who will respect your parenting choices, including how and when to feed your baby, how to respond to crying and other cues, how their sleep is structured (or unstructured), how often they are held, how they comforted, how they are disciplined, and more.
Look for child care providers who will work with you to accommodate your preferences. Sometimes they may have limitations due to the number of children they care for. Know which areas are the most important to you, and find a care provider who can meet your needs in those areas.
When your care provider is a family member, your parenting choices should be respected. A family member who ignores your instructions may not be the best person to watch your child, even though they may be more emotionally attached to your baby than a professional caregiver.
Also consider an out-of-home caregiver’s policies on dropping in to see your child. If a facility limits your ability to visit your child, or requires advance notice, this may be a red flag that they will present a different picture to you of the care your child is receiving when you are not around.
4. Ease into a schedule. If you have the flexibility, consider leaving your baby for small increments of time with their caregiver, and build up to a regular schedule over a period of weeks or months. This period of transition will help both you and your baby get used to being apart.
A slower approach can also apply to occasional or part-time care. Have your sitter watch your child in your home while you are there before you leave your baby alone with them for the first time. The sitter can become familiar with your home and the baby’s routines, the baby won’t consider the sitter a stranger, and you will get a sense of how the sitter will care for your baby when you are gone.
If you are breastfeeding, easing back into work may help you maintain your breastfeeding relationship while you pump to build up a supply. It may also give a baby who is reluctant to take a bottle time to adjust to a new method of feeding.
5. Consider alternatives. Sometimes, the needs and priorities of your family change after your baby is born. When pregnant, you may have had a plan to return to work after six weeks but now that your baby is here, you feel you need an extended maternity leave. Or maybe you planned on hiring a nanny, but you found an in-home daycare that seems like a better fit.
Some families re-evaluate their need for a two-income household, and one parent decides to stay home to care for the baby full time. Or one parent transitions to work from home for a time, to be more available to help with child care.
If you find yourself re-thinking your child care needs, there are many options available to parents these days. Start a discussion with your employer about what flexible options may be available to you. Examine your family budget to see if one or both parents can stay home with the baby, or work from home for a while. See if a family member is available to help out on a regular basis.
Make the choices that are right for you new family, even if those choices are different than what you thought they would be when you were pregnant!
I am a certified labor doula (birth doula) and postpartum doula serving clients in Boise, Eagle, Meridian, Nampa, and the greater Treasure Valley.
Planning for birth and postpartum can be just as stressful as choosing child care. Find out how a doula can help you as you bring your new baby into the world.
These gorgeous photos are courtesy of Natalie Koziuk Photography. Clients of Elevated Birth get discounts on sessions with Natalie!
New Baby? Pregnant? Trying?
I've worked in the forest, in the lab, and in an office cubicle. My favorite and most passionate work has been alongside clients as they reach inside to find their innermost strength, and give birth to their babies. Each birth is an honor to witness.